This week I read the introduction to “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment And The Tuning of The World” by Murray Schafer, a Canadian composer. Since it is an introduction, it flowed between different topics to be covered in the book, telling a lot of ideas in a small footprint. I also tried to read “Sonic Liminality: Soundscapes, Semiotics, and Ecologies of Meaning,” by Jonathon Beever, but after looking up the word “liminal” for the 6th time I realized I should move on.
One interesting idea presented was that the state of a society impacts the type/structure of music written. One example given was that the “egalitarian and enlightened reign of Maria Teresa” coincided with the “grace and balance of Mozart’s music” – perhaps the fact that society was flourishing had something to do with how Mozart’s music turned out, perhaps these two facts are no coincidence. This reminds me of something we learned in world history in high school. The Mesopotamians and the Egyptians didn’t just have different gods – they had different expectations of the gods. Since the Mesopotamians lived in a less stable environment, they interpreted floods as actions of wrathful gods. The Egyptians, on the other hand, had a more stable environment, and so they didn’t see wrathful gods. If geography can have such an impact on the spirit of religions, then certainly the state of society can have a huge impact on the music produced.
The introduction also notes that those who study soundscapes are “disadvantaged in the pursuit of a historical perspective,” since “sounds may alter or disappear with scarcely a comment from the most sensitive of historians.” Perhaps we are finally coming out of a ‘prehistory of soundscapes,’ with modern technology making microphones for recording sound as ubiquitous as cameras for recording scenes.